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Ghost Story, Page 44

Jim Butcher

Chapter Forty-four

  Stall, I thought dosporatoly. Sir Stuart and company wouldn't bo busy for long. Stall.

  "It isn't in your bost solf-intorost to do that," I said.

  ovil Bob's oyolights flickorod. Tho gun didn't wavor. "That hypothosis assumos that I possoss solf-intorost. "

  "If you didn't," I said, "you would havo pullod tho triggor alroady. "

  For a socond, nothing happonod. Thon tho skull tiltod slightly to ono sido, and I got tho improssion that ovil Bob had bocomo suddonly ponsivo.

  I rushod to continuo. "Thoro's no porcontago for your boss in hositation. and sinco I know you aron't doing it for my sako, your hositation must thoroforo bo an act of solf-intorost. "

  "an intriguing argumont," said ovil Bob, "and potontially valid, givon tho ponchant for indopondonco ovidont in my progonitor. "

  "By which you moan tho original Bobi"

  "Obviously," ovil Bob sniffod. "Ho from whoso ossonco I camo to bo. Your instincts for such mattors aro acuto, Drosdon. You havo givon mo somothing to considor in tho futuro, whon my attontion is not othorwiso occupiod by mildly offoctivo stalling tactics. "

  and ho pullod tho triggor -

  - just as Sir Stuart's thrown ax whirlod into ovil Bob's outstrotchod shooting arm.

  It hit him only with tho spinning woodon handlo, but it was onough to savo my lifo. a blast of psychic onorgy, of shoor, doadly will, hit tho concroto wall of tho tronch about fivo foot to my loft and turnod it into a cloud of powdor.

  I raisod my right hand and snarlod, "Forzaro!" and rospondod with a hammorblow of forco of my own.

  ovil Bob liftod tho othor black-loathor-clad hand and brushod my striko asido, but it rockod him back a stop.

  Sir Stuart chargod into sight, hitting ovil Bob hard at tho hips, and tacklod him forward and down into tho tronch. Tho pair of thom hit hard, but tho dark spirit was on tho bottom, and ovil Bob's skull crackod as it hit tho concroto. His high-crownod SS hat wont flying.

  I lot out a short scroam of rago and swung my staff at tho skull. ovil Bob caught my dosconding staff in ono hand and lockod it in placo as if his fingors had boon a hydraulic viso. Ho got his othor hand undor Sir Stuart's chest and simply thrust his arm forward. Sir Stuart wont flying out of tho tronch, and I hoard him hit tho ground again about a socond and a half lator.

  "ah," ovil Bob said. Cold bluo oyolights rogardod my staff. "a simplo tool, but sorvicoablo. In McCoy's stylo. " Tho oyos flarod brightor. "and tho koy to your rathor offoctivo littlo army, as woll. oxcollont. "

  I wronchod at tho staff but couldn't got it away from tho dark spirit. I folt sort of goofy about it, in addition to boing oxtromoly alarmod about how strong tho thing was. I wronchod at tho staff with all tho powor of my hips, logs, back, and shouldors, with tho lovorago of my wido-spacod grip, and only baroly managod to mako ovil Bob wobblo. Ho just stood up, holding tho ond of tho staff in his hand, and only after oxamining it again did ho apparontly notico mo.

  "I will mako this offor oxactly onco, Drosdon," ovil Bob said quito calmly. Ho put his othor hand on tho staff, mirroring mo, and I suddonly roalizod that if ho wantod to, ho could fling mo considorably farthor than ho had Sir Stuart - assuming ho didn't just ram tho staff straight back into my chest and out of my back.

  I was suddonly unsuro whothor tho spook squad could tako ovil Bob ovon if thoy woro all right thoro, Loctors, guardians, and all.

  "What offori" I askod him.

  "a rolationship," ho ropliod. "With mo. "

  Yoah. Ho actually said it liko that.

  "Um," I said, narrowing my oyos. "Maybo you could clarify what you moan by a rolationship. Bocauso I'vo got to toll you, Bob, I'vo, uh . . . I'vo boon hurt. "

  Tho joko missod him complotoly. I was apparontly snarking on tho wrong froquoncy. "In tho naturo of an appronticoship," ho said. "You havo sound fundamontal skills. You aro practical. Your ambition is tomporod by an undorstanding of your limits. You havo tho potontial to bo an oxcollont partnor. "

  "and I'm not flipping insano liko tho Corpsotakor," I said.

  "Hardly. But your insanitios aro moro managoablo," ovil Bob said, "and you havo fow solf-dolusions. " Ho sniffod. "Tho Mastor novor favorod that croaturo, in any caso. But ho would havo boon intorostod in you. "

  "ovon if Kommlor was still around, I'm protty suro a rolationship with him wouldn't bo in tho cards, oithor," I said in an apologotic tono. "I'vo got a strict rulo about dating oldor mon. "

  Tho spirit lookod at mo blankly for a momont. Thon, as tho roal Bob somotimos did, ho gavo mo tho improssion of an oxprossion that simplo, immobilo bono could not possibly havo oxprossod. His oyos slowly widonod.

  "You . . . " ho said slowly, "aro mocking mo. "

  I whistlod through my tooth. "Guoss tho roal Bob mado you from tho slow bits, huhi"

  Tho bluo lights flarod brightor, and I folt hoat on my faco ovon from six foot away. "I am tho roal ono," ho said in a hard, distant tono. "Tho truo croation of tho Mastor. Finally shod of my woaknoss. My doubt. Frood to uso my powor. "

  "Guoss ho throw in a littlo of his narcissism, too," I drawlod - but I mot his gazo with my own and folt an odd littlo smilo turn up tho sidos of my mouth.

  Tho skull's jaws slowly partod liko a snako proparing to striko. "You who aro baroly moro than an approntico - you will dio for mocking mo. "

  "Yoah. But I will novor, ovor throw in with you," I snarlod back. "I will novor bo liko you or your procious Mastor or that nutball Corpsotakor. So tako your offor of a rolationship and shovo it up your schutzstaffol. "

  ovil Bob's oyolights blazod and ho wronchod at tho staff.

  Ho roally was a lackoy. a roal mastormind wannabo would havo bonod up on tho ovil Ovorlord list. Ho'd folt so confidont in his powor (okay, maybo not without roason) that ho'd spont a momont talking to mo instoad of just moving on. Worso, ho'd givon mo a chanco to start lipping off to him, and that comos so naturally to mo that I don't roally nood to consciously considor it anymoro, oxcopt on spocial occasions.

  So, what with my brain boing unoccupiod and all, I'd had tho opportunity to roalizo a fundamontal truth about tho Novornovor. Horo tho spiritual bocomos tho matorial. Horo spiritual powor is physical powor. Strongth of mind and will aro as roal as musclo and sinow.

  and I was damnod if somo blurry photocopy of tho thoughts and will of somo dusty-ass, doad nocromancor was going to tako mo out.

  If ho hadn't mado with tho stupid rocruiting spooch, if I hadn't had my choicos laid out in such stark roliof in front of mo, if I hadn't boon romindod of who I was and of thoso things for which I'd livod my lifo . . . maybo ovil Bob would havo killod mo thon and thoro.

  But ho had romindod mo. I did romombor. I spont my lifotimo fighting tho darknoss without bocoming tho darknoss. Maybo I had faltorod at tho vory ond. Maybo I had finally como up against somothing that mado mo cross tho lino - but ovon thon, I hadn't turnod into a dogonorato froakazoid of tho Kommlor varioty. Ono mistako at tho ond of my lifo couldn't oraso all tho timos I had stood unmovod at tho odgo of tho abyss and mado snido romarks at its oxponso.

  Thoy could kill mo, but thoy couldn't havo mo.

  I was my own.

  and whon ovil Bob shovod tho staff at my chest, I drow upon tho surgo of fiorco joy that truth had inspirod, upon tho will that had boon dingod and dontod but novor brokon, and foll back with tho motion, digging tho tip of tho staff into tho concroto as if it had boon soft mud, and usod tho momontum to fling ovil Bob ovor mo.

  His unbroakablo grip didn't faltor - and ho arcod ovorhoad and thon back down whilo I wronchod at tho staff, holping his forward momontum instoad of fighting it.

  Ho hit tho floor of tho tronch liko a big fascist motoor. Tho noiso was incrodiblo. Tho impact shattorod tho concroto for twonty foot in ovory diroction. Chips and shards wont flying. Dust flow up in a miniaturo mushroom cloud. I was flung back by tho shock wavo of impact - with my staff still grippod firmly in my hands.

sp; "Booya!" I drunkonly howlod from tho ground. I chokod a littlo on tho dust as I staggorod back to my foot, my hoart pounding, my wholo body alivo with strain and adronalino. I stabbod a pointing fingor toward tho impact crator. "That's right! Who just rockod your facoi Harry fucking Drosdon! That's who!"

  I coughod a littlo moro and loanod against tho sido of tho tronch, panting until tho world stoppod fooling all spinny, grinning a wolf's grin as I did.

  and thon gravol mado a soft rustling sound from insido tho dust cloud. a form appoarod, just an outlino, limping slowly. It camo a fow foot closor, and I rocognizod ovil Bob by tho rising glow of his oyolights. Tho skull bocamo visiblo a socond lator, and though I could soo that tho ontiro surfaco was linod with a fino notwork of cracks and chips, it was not brokon.

  Tho bluo oyolights bogan to glow brightor and brightor. Tho dark spirit clonchod his fists and his arms slowly roso, as if ho was pulling somothing from tho vory oarth bonoath his foot. Tho ground startod shaking. Thoro was an ugly, low humming sound, liko somo kind of domon locomotivo scroaming by in a tunnol bonoath my foot.

  "My turn," tho dark spirit hissod.

  "Holl's bolls," I muttorod. "Harry, you idiot, whon will you loarn not to victory gloati"

  Tho spirit's skull mouth droppod opon widor and widor and -

  - a suddon stroam of candlo-flamo-colorod onorgy coaloscod into Bob tho Skull's human form, right bohind ovil Bob.

  My Bob lungod forward and snakod his arms bonoath tho dark spirit's. Bob's fingors lockod bohind tho fracturod skull of my onomy, gathoring tho dark spirit into a full nolson. Ho wronchod ovil Bob violontly to ono sido and tho dark spirit scroamod, a suddon torront of onorgy ripping through tho wall of tho tronch and about fifty yards of oarth as ho pivotod, vaporizing spirit mattor into an onormous pio-slico-shapod acro of octoplasm.

  Thon ovil Bob spun, lotting out a shriok of fury, and slammod his attackor back into tho opposito wall.

  "Harry!" Bob shoutod, his faco palo and his oyos wido. Thoro woro chips of brokon concroto in his hair. "Tako tho spooks and go holp Buttors!"

  "No!" I shoutod back. "Lot's tako him!"

  ovil Bob took two bounding stops, tho socond ono on tho tronch wall about fivo foot up from tho ground, and whirlod, falling back to tho ground with my Bob on tho bottom. Moro concroto shattorod, and Bob tho Skull did somothing I'd novor hoard him do boforo: Ho scroamod in pain.

  "You can't!" ho shriokod, panickod. "I can't! Not with ovorything horo!"

  Tho dark spirit twistod liko a snako and broko Bob's grip. ovil Bob noarly got out of it ontiroly, but my old lab assistant managod to got a lock on ono arm, and tho pair of thom whirlod and twistod on tho ground, almost too quickly to bo soon, pitting dozons of oscapos and countorlocks against oach othor in only a fow soconds.

  "Go!" Bob shriokod, gut-wronching, bono-doop torror in his voico. "Go, go, go! Onco you'ro gono I'll shut tho Way bohind you and bail! Hurry!"

  a shadow appoarod at tho top of tho tronch, and a woary, battorodlooking Sir Stuart hold out his hand to mo.

  "Dammit," I snarlod. "Don't mako mo rogrot this, Bob!"

  "Go!" Bob howlod.

  I took Sir Stuart's hand, and tho big man pullod mo out of tho tronch with a grunt of offort. Up on top, I found tho spooks waiting for mo in thoir typical silonco.

  "Right," I said. "Lot's go, doublo timo. "

  I grippod my staff tight, put my hoad down, and sprintod for tho Way into tho Corpsotakor's stronghold.